PROBLEM FOUR: GETTING YOUR HANDS ON THE MONEY
Tom started in on his take of things. “It seems that at this point you have been traveling internationally, you get in country, and you check to see if the money made it. If it has you want to get some of it right away. You don’t know when or if it will get frozen, and by this time, no matter what, you are going to need to run for the rest of your life. It would be easier to run if you had some cash, besides what you took from home.” Looking doubtful he concluded, “I don’t think the bank will have a couple million in cash lying around.”
“And if you contacted them in advance and asked that they have fifty million in cash waiting for you it might raise some eyebrows,” Dan pointed out. “They could cut a cashiers check or bank draft for that amount, but then again it’s totally sketchy. You have no money in your account, then ‘Pow!’ one or two hundred million show up overnight. Then YOU show up, fake ID and all, and want some – or all of it, basically -- in cash.”
Everyone had polished off their drinks by now, as well as all of the appetizers. There was a general lull as everyone thought about the problem. When the dinners arrived, “More drinks!” was the battle cry. By now everyone had a good buzz on, and the food was excellent.
Brian addressed the money problem first. “OK, I’m going to cheat and skip the problem of getting some of the money out of the bank, and move to the practical problem of what do you do with it once you have it.”
“I’ll even assume you have it all as cash. Let’s say you scored and got the equivalent of one hundred million USD. Now what do you do with it? I see some problems that need to be solved.”
“If it is all in cash you are going to be huffing huge duffle bags around with you. I’m not sure how bulky that kind of money is, but I’m guessing it won’t fit in a briefcase. If you got the money in Euros, you could go for 500 EUR notes, about the same as $600 USD. That would cut down on the bulk by a factor of six, but 500 EUR notes stick out.”
“Now you have all this cash in some big suitcases, and it is time to go on the run. You can’t risk checking the luggage at an airport. What if it’s searched or lost? It’s too much to carry on your person. Ten thousand dollars or so may not draw attention, but ten million will.”
“You’ll need to rent a private airplane, car, or get on a boat. That’s where some of your recon comes in handy, planning how to start your run, geographically speaking,” Brian concluded.
“There is always gold or platinum,” Tom suggested.
“I think not,” Dan replied. “Gold isn’t worth that much.” Busting out his Nokia he started on the calculator. “If you have two suitcases, the most weight you could handle would be maybe 50 or 70 pounds each. Let’s say you are all buffed out and you can manage two 70 pound suitcases. So 140 pounds * 16 = 2,240 oz. If Gold is trading at $410 that means you could heft around $918,400 worth. Not enough to live on the run for the rest of your life. If you had platinum at $800 an ounce it would be about $1,792,000 worth. Better, but still not good enough forever.”
Tom recognized the problem right away. “You run into the cash problem with the bank again. What gold shop can you walk into, and walk out of with a million dollars in gold? You’d be all over their security cameras, and if the police were looking for you it is hard to be stealthy with that much weight or bulk.”
“You could parallelize the problem by getting another person to carry two more cases and double your gold, but now that person has a great incentive to steal your stuff. More risk,” Tom concluded.
“If you went for diamonds, it is no easier,” Brian explained. “You’d need blood diamonds that have no laser etching, or real old diamonds that never had the etchings in the first place. You could easily carry a hundred mil worth of diamonds, but getting any source to stock that amount and accept cash for them would be almost impossible.”
“Plus spending the money is starting to get difficult. Short of cash, how many places are there to convert gold bricks or diamonds into cash? You know as soon as the investigators figured out what you converted the electronic funds into that would go out. Every gold dealer in the country would have been notified. They may not report you, but it is another risk.”
Tom tried to be helpful. “You could buy anonymous bearer bonds.” Thinking it through, though, it was just as difficult as the others. “Oh right, you still need to buy and sell them without the feds catching on.”
“You know,” Brian said finishing his meal, “I have always wondered how much is enough?” How much of the four billion do you need to survive on the run for the rest of your life? Assume you can’t do anything attention getting such as building a huge yacht or anything that will get you spotted. I’m talking food, medical, ability to travel, buy some goodies, and some safe houses around the world in the countries that are the safest, with regard to extradition.”
“The countries that won’t extradite you are ones you would stick out in, and where you wouldn’t want to drink the water anyway,” Dan pointed out.
“We’ll make another magical assumption that you found one. I’m still wondering how much is enough?” Brian reiterated.
“Well figure a million dollars a year, adjusted for inflation for the rest of your life. You’re about 35 years old, right Tom? So let’s say you manage to stay alive until you’re 100. That’s 65 more years. So taking into account inflation and assuming your money is not earning you any interest because it is in cash or gold or something, at 3% inflation…. I’m going to need a retirement calculator to do this.”
“Use your fancy phone,” Tom suggested. Tom had been eyeing Brian’s new Nokia Communicator with integrated WiFi, BlueTooth, the works.
“Good idea!” Brian said reaching for his phone. “So I’ll google for ‘retirement calculator’ and then….” Brian started mumbling to himself as he typed away at the small keys while Tom and Dan polished off their dinners.
“I love technology,” Dan commented watching Brian navigate the mini keyboard and squint at the small type on the screen.
“OK, got it. Let’s see.... To really make it worth while you want a million a year, for 65 years. You get no interest, but you get three percent inflation. That’s a bit optimistic, but whatever.” Hitting the ‘calculate’ button Brian got ready to announce the results.
“I’m guessing a hundred million,” Tom declared.
“No way,” Dan countered. “One hundred twenty-five.”
“And the answer is....” Brian led in. “Fuckola! You’ll need $194,332,757.82. Damn! At year 65 you will need $6,631,051.20 to equal a million dollars today. That is a lot of coin.”
“Let me see what happens if you can get some of it in the bank someplace,” Brian was back on the retirement calculator. “Let’s say you can earn 5% interest, and lose 3% to inflation, and still want a million a year. Ah, these results are much better. $37,459,077.63”
The power of compounding interest was apparent to everyone.
“The lesson?” Brian asked. “To live like a king you need to get some of your money earning interest someplace. Someplace that won’t freeze it, someplace safe.”
“So to answer my own question, if a million dollars is enough every year, then I’d want to walk away with 194 million to be on the safe side. A lot less if I can park it somewhere.”
Brian thought it over for a second and announced, “I think I’d rather build up my company, get acquired for ten or twenty million and invest it. I could almost achieve that level of life style if I invested wisely and let the interest build for five or ten years. Plus I wouldn’t have to live in a country called ‘Retardastan’ and dodge private investigators!”
“Right. Let’s Move on,” Dan said. “And let’s get into some dessert and more drinks.”
PROBLEM FIVE: EVERYONE IS AFTER YOU.
Reading from his list, which had now been used as a napkin once or twice Dan set the stage for Problem Five. “Now you have the loot, somehow, and you are hiding out. I guess there are two aspects to this problem, short term and long term.”
“In the short term you need to dodge the intensive search being made by all the authorities and the bank’s agents. I’m guessing at this stage you’re switching identities a couple times, and trying to stay put so you won’t get recognized by accident. The long term problem is how do you stay unidentified for the rest of your life? This is one of my favorite topics. I couldn’t wait to get to this question.”
Dan continued, “Now, having dealt with some of these problems years ago, I read everything I could find on the subject.”
Tom asked, “Was that was when you were sort of on the run in L.A.?”
“Yeah, I wanted to keep a low profile, and besides the crap advice you get from noobie haxors, the other place to turn to is the mighty Loompanics for their books on identity. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” Dan grinned “the books exist for a couple target audiences. I read one on counter-surveillance, but it seemed to deal mostly with a team of bodyguards when protecting their principals. There were a couple of books dealing with getting a clean start, but not if the feds were after you. Some on how to avoid Big Brother, but it was more from a privacy stand point. If Big Brother were really after you it’s a whole different matter.”
“The one that seems close to this situation was a John Q. Newman book called Heavy Duty New Identity, I think, and it was targeting the felony fugitive. He had several good points. One of them explained why fugitives get caught while on the run. He said there were two reasons: One, the fugitive continued to commit crimes, therefore increasing his chance of getting noticed. The second was a problem with the newly created identity. It wasn’t totally ‘backstopped’ and over time the problem came to light and wrecked the fugitive’s new identity. He was dealing mostly with identity in America.”
“That makes sense,” Tom said. He was warming up to this topic, not one he was very familiar with. Give him a router or flow chart and he was fine. He never went down the roads Dan had, so this was pretty new to him.
“Yeah. Newman is a proponent of the ‘two step’ program. In the first step, you lay low with a transitional identity for a couple months during the intensive active phase of the investigation. Then you move on to your new permanent identity after you get to where you are going. The two identities are not connected, so if the first one is discovered it can not be tied to your second one.” Dan paused and looked around. Tom was interested, and though Brian had heard this all before he seemed in good spirits and was letting Dan do all the talking.
“Newman’s opinion is that small towns are the worst to hide in because everyone is all up in your business, you pretty much have to drive a car to get around, and it is hard to be anonymous. Cities over 200,000 people are better. You want to blend in and look like everyone else. You can walk or bus to most locations, avoiding the traffic stop. It makes sense that cities like N.Y., Orlando, or Las Vegas with lots of tourists moving through and an active underground economy and work force are the ideal locations to disappear for a while.”
Tom pointed out, “Under the scenario so far I’m not going to Florida. I’d be flying to some foreign country and trying to get some cash or cash equivalent as fast as possible.”
“But the lessons learned can be applied to any country. They are general. Just like the advice on changing your appearance. The minute the authorities catch on to you they will be crawling up your ass with a microscope. They will contact and interview your friends and family, search your house, read your mail, gather every bit of information about your hobbies, pictures, skills, languages known, distinguishing characteristics, and special medical needs, likes and dislikes, etc.” Dan was waving his hands around a bit now to signify the ninja chop that would be coming down on your head. “They will notify the police in every country you have ever visited or are likely to visit. They will monitor your family’s communications, hoping that you will contact them. They will publish different photos of you, showing as many different looks as possible,” Dan concluded by folding his arms across his chest in a ‘Game Over’ pose. “You might even get an America’s Most Wanted episode all to yourself.”
“Now they will get you on video going through airport security, unless you take the risk of a disguise, fake passport and I.D. to leave the country. Even then they will guess you are trying to collect the money, so they still will be on the lookout for you in all the countries you send the loot to. I’d think the time to change your mannerisms and adopt a different look and identity is right after you succeed or fail at getting some of the money. You’ll have been on video at the bank if you got the money in person, and you’ll also be recorded if you converted some of that to gold or diamonds at a large store.”
At this point Brian chipped in, directing his comments mostly to Tom. “As you can see unless you have trustworthy organized crime contacts or a crooked banker in your pocket, you won’t be able to dodge all of these problems.”
“Right,” Dan acknowledged while Tom was nodding in agreement. “Back to your appearance problem while on the run. You’ll want to change your look, walk, talk, dress, maybe even your physical build. By combining several of these changes together you can become a radically different person in people’s eyes. From casual dressing with glasses to a long styled hair cut, dress clothing with contact lenses. If you can spend time and try to adopt to the local speaking dialect or language as well as habits you will fit in even more. You want to end up not looking like any of your past pictures. Get your nose pierced and light your hair on fire. Whatever it takes to have people not even consider the possibility that you are the fugitive on T.V. If you don’t appear American and don’t fit your old general description, you will have an easier time of it.”
“Hey, let’s order dessert and coffee if we are going to be here a while,” Brian suggested. You could tell he needed some coffee, and Tom could do with a chocolate fix. “Fine by me,” Dan agreed. He needed a breather.
Brian took care of the order so Dan continued. “Now I am not going to go into all I know about false identities and being on the run. I just want to point out that it is a complicated process, and not something to be done overnight. You want to have a plan.
Finished with the order, it was Brian’s turn to complicate things for Tom. “Tom, didn’t you do some audits for a big board trading company on Wall Street?”
“Yeah, it was actually a mutual fund trading company, but they had connections to the NYSE. That was the place that had to stay on-line 24/7. If their systems were off-line for more than a couple hours they would get dropped from the trading boards. Why?”
“Well, if I remember correctly, working on any system that touches the NYSE in real time requires a background check. Did you have one done?” Brian asked.
“It was no sweat,” Tom answered. “It was a simple NCIC 2000 check.”
“Did you get fingerprinted?” Brian asked, springing his trap.
“Ohhh Shit. Yes.” Tom realized the implications. It’s much harder to change your fingerprints than your looks. Especially with the new biometric passports being developed for the EU countries as well as Britain and the U.S. “But then again they could have searched my condo and lifted my fingerprints from almost anything,” he concluded.
“True,” Brian nodded. “I just wanted you to think about the problems that poses. If you were truly paranoid about your fingerprints you’d have to be like Hannibal Lecter in that last movie and always wear gloves. Or somehow get your fingerprints modified.”
Dan flexed again. “I read in an old T-file that you can modify your prints with some lye, a razor blade and tweezers. Apparently it hurts like hell and takes about a month to heal. You basically obliterate the distinctive qualities of your fingerprints by cutting them without drawing blood, then insert some lye and wait a minute for it to dissolve your skin below. Then you wash it out and treat it as you would a severe burn. The scaring on the dermis causes the distinctive characteristics to change on your epidermis, and voila! Now repeat for all fingers and possibly your palm print. I’ve never tried it, so I don’t know if it’s bullshit or not. Sounds possible.”
Brian pointed out another problem. “I bet they can lift some of your DNA off stuff in your condo or around your office desk as well, so your long term plan should deal with DNA evasion. Avoid settling down in a country that may force you to be fingerprinted to DNA typed. If you are arrested some police can compel you to be tested.”
“Well, beyond your fingerprints and DNA, as a white American you have the obvious problem of blending in. You would fit best in a country like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, or New Zealand. But once you get an identity set up there I could see moving on to other European countries. The problem is the investigators will know this. But it certainly broadens their search, especially if you some how manage to make it out of the country without being identified,” Dan summarized.
“Besides fitting in culturally, why just those countries?” Tom wanted to know. He might have been testing the limits of Dan’s knowledge, but wanted to see what he would say.
Dan was quick with an answer. “If I remember correctly the U.K. identity system is close to that of the U.S. and is easier to create a new identity in. Other countries, like Denmark I believe, assign you a “person number” at birth, and it is used all through out your life, kinda like a SSN here, except it is used all over the place. So the problem becomes, how do you show up with a fake birth certificate and ask for a person number when you are 35 years old? You would have already used it in school, work, marriage, etc.”
“This long history of activity would be missing with you. It would be suspicious unless you could some how pay off people and get one created for you from scratch. It seems safer to start out in the U.K. and once you get an identity under control there, use it to go to work in another E.U. country, sort of trading up from an easier country to a harder one.”
Tom was starting to be overwhelmed with all of the specific issues just relating to the identity part of hiding out. “We’ve been speaking long term big picture issues here, what about the short term problems?”
“In the short term, say three to nine months, you will want to be operating under that first phase identity. It will be enough time for you to lay low, do research, and practice any new skills you will need when you assume your second and ultimate identity. So you would create a front company that can accept mail on your behalf at a mail box place or a rented space, and use this company as a reference for past work in the country. You might try to make friends in the local community and use them as references as well if you needed to look for work.”
“In your situation, though, you would have enough cash to never work. That was sort of the point of stealing it all. So you would use this time to create any supporting materials you need, perform any research, and modify yourself to your ‘new look’ to be used in the second phase. This could be anything from working out to language classes,” Dan explained.
“I get that part,” Tom jumped in a little impatiently, “but where do you sleep that first night? Where do you stay those first weeks?”
“Good question,” Brian answered. “Now you have lots of cash, but everyone is looking for you.”
“Best to assume all the hotels and hostels will be watched. In an ideal world you would have set up your front company months in advance, and then rented a place to stay.” Brian caught himself going down a road that was off limits. He added, “That assumes months of planning though, and we aren’t having that conversation. You would have had to visit, or have someone else visit, to open the box, rent the apartment, etc. That could make things even more difficult, involving other people or leaving a trail.”
“If you were really planning far in advance you would switch from your apartment months before you commit the crime to an anonymous location. You would destroy every bit of information about yourself possible, and pay off and close every account you had. You would leave no fingerprints or any traces of yourself at the office. You would do all your research from public web terminals or with pre-paid anonymous cell phones and pre-paid calling cards.”
Apparently thinking his contribution was over for the time being, Brian leaned back and let the waitress deliver the deserts and drinks. “Yes! Latte!” he exclaimed before scooping up the drink.
“OK, I get the point about pre-planning and recon but I still don’t have a very clear picture of what that would be like.”
Dan answered this with half a laugh. “Well, unless you do it, you won’t really know. I am sure there are enough unknowns and variables that will change what you do along the way. The secret must be flexibility. What’s that old military saying? ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy.’ I think. Anyway, I only know what I read and what limited experience I have. I can speculate all night, though,” Dan assured him.
Tom could tell Dan wasn’t really into it, though, and again suggested moving on.
“Ready for Six then? OK” Dan scavenged the napkin and read.
PROBLEM SIX: LIVING IT UP, BIG STYLE.
“This should be fun,” Dan said with some enthusiasm. Brian put down his Latte and perked up as well.
“Here I think we get to fantasize a little. If we hold ourselves to a million dollars a year budget, and make plenty of allowances, we can get crazy.”
Tom picked up on that. “Allowances? What allowances?! We don’t need no stinkin’ allowances!”
“Well, let’s gloss over a whole host of issues,” Brian started to explain. “Let’s assume you escaped arrest for the first year, you would have managed to get a decent fake identity set up in your country of choice, and had a bank account created. Maybe even a driver’s license. You won’t keep your millions in the account, but enough to start creating a credit history and be able to get a credit card. A longer term problem would be that you would never want to get in a situation to be fingerprinted, so depending on the country and political winds you may never get a passport from your new home country.”
“So with that in mind I would rent an apartment, and possibly buy a small house,” Tom said, finally getting to express his goals. “I’d try to have the apartment for entertaining or when I meet someone new, but don’t want to take them to my real house. Maybe have a second apartment that would be used as an emergency safe house.” He was getting into it now. “I’d stash some cash in some public space, and spend some time making plans in case I had to flee. After all the prep work was done I’d start to enjoy myself.”
“And how would you do that?” Dan queried.
“Well, I’d buy some shiny toys, electronics and stuff, maybe a plush ride. I’d outfit the house to be really sleek and zen like. No clutter. It would be a haven from my current mess.”
“Your fortress of solitude?” Brian asked rhetorically. “What else?”
“Well, depending on how easy or safe it was to travel around, I’d use public transport for a year or so until I got to know the new country. I’d study up on it. I’d check out all the cool restaurants and night life spots. I’d be able to sleep for a week and not get fired.” Tom’s eyes were getting misty.
“So, that makes sense. Now think longer term…. ” Dan was prompting him, trying to extend his horizon.
“Well, when the second year’s million comes into play I might try to get another place in a nearby country that I could walk to if I absolutely had to. No more than fifty or sixty miles away. It would be my backup property.” Tom said.
“So far you have managed to create your safety blanket, but then what? I mean you don’t have to work. Ever. What do you do?” Dan insisted.
“I’d do all the things I never had time to do,” Tom retorted, resenting being put on the spot. “I would read the books I wanted to, catch up on movies. Maybe take some classes to learn new skills.” Tom reflected. “I always wanted to learn how to work with wood and rebuild cars. I’ve spent my life developing computer and management skills. I’d like to develop some that are non-perishable. You know the kind of skills that don’t age, like woodworking.”
Tom had something to say here. “If you decided to fall asleep for six months, a year or even ten years later when you woke up you would find your computer skills all kinds of dated. I hate that. I hate always having to constantly relearn the same thing. I learned how to write ‘hello world’ in Pascal, then the same thing in ‘c’ then in ‘c++’ then in ‘.NET’. From Rexx to Perl to Python to Ruby. Fuck.” Tom shook his head in frustration.
“But with woodworking, for example, if you are really good, you will still be really good ten years from now. Maybe even better, if the number of skilled craftsmen diminished over time. I’d try to acquire some timeless skills.” Tom tried to think of some others that fit this category.
“It sounds like you are talking all personal development stuff, nothing that requires millions of dollars. Hell, you could do that stuff now,” Dan pointed out.
“Yeah, but the millions are really a safety net, a guarantee of being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want,” Tom defended his plans.
“Let’s think about what would take big bucks.” Brian changed the direction of the conversation. Being the person at the table with the most money, and most experience at spending it, he offered his two cents.
“A private jet would suck down ten plus million, but you’ll run into identity problems. Running a political campaign can cost millions, but that draws too many investigative reporters, and you don’t seem the power mad type.” Brian nodded in Tom’s direction. “You could invest in some start up companies or various stock markets. Depending on what you did you could spend all the money in a day that way. I’d say buying things that you enjoy that also act as a long term investment may be the way to go. Art, pocket watches, real estate in the right markets, maybe a classic car or two. There is always coin or rare book collecting. Anything of increasing scarcity.”
“For example, you guys know I do some vintage car rally. Time-Speed-Distance stuff mostly. Anyway, when you do vintage car TSD you are limited to period correct cars and equipment.”
“The killer toy for this kind of rally is a Curta I or a Curta II mechanical computer which allows the navigator to do crazy time corrections or mileage splits to get the driver totally synchronized at any point. They stopped being made in the early ‘70s. When William Gibson described their use in Pattern Recognition they jumped in price from $500 to just about $2,000.”
“I think Tom’s problem will be that he won’t spend all of his money even if he tried. Even if he spent $200 for dinner every night of the year and rented a $10,000 a month flat he would still only spend around $190,000 a year.”
Dan picked up on the problem. “He’d have to fall into a rich bunch of friends, and try to keep up with them if he was going to spend it all.”
Tom was nodding at all of this, letting it sink in. He looked a little glum. “Before stealing a billion dollars, I can see now I really never thought it though completely. There might be a limit on what I could realistically do as an internationally wanted fugitive.”
“If I somehow managed to get new fingerprints, a new look, and a rock solid identity I could see going crazy with the money,” Tom brightened up with the prospects of this line of speculation. “I could travel to all the countries I ever wanted to visit, vacationing everywhere from Dubai to Nice. Ski trips and cabins all over. Friends in different cities and I could entertain them all if I wanted. A super lifestyle designed for leisure and relaxation!”
“Easy there, stud.” Dan put the brakes on Tom’s fantasy. “Remember the more visible you are, the more people you meet, the more likely you are to run into someone who can accidentally or intentionally blow your cover. Some rich people are quite paranoid and before they invite you over for caviar and champagne they might check into your past just for the hell of it.”
Brian finished his latte, and wanted another. He also wanted the conversation to move on, but didn’t want to interrupt Dan and Tom’s exchange. It was good to see Tom evaluate all of the possibilities.
“I guess you are limited. It’s almost like there are so many angles to consider that it’s hard to wrap your head around them all,” Tom conceded.
“Welcome to the real world, Tom,” Dan stated. “So I can tell the evening is winding down. Brian is on Latte number two, and I’ve finished dessert. But we still have one more problem, which isn’t really a problem. Probably more of an open ended question.”
PROBLEM SEVEN: DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?
“Now, I think Brian brought this one up, so he should start off on it, also because he is the most caffeinated of all of us all,” Dan pointed out.
“Yes!” Brian seconded with a big grin. “What I was thinking when I brought this up earlier is that while you may have taken the time to figure out all the technical and legal problems, you may not have what it takes to execute your plan.”
“The skills you need to be successful in business or even in love might be quite different than the ones you need when on the run. For the rest of time you need to deal with the stress that you may be caught. Can you deal with that?” Brian asked Tom. “Because I know I would have an ulcer after the third time I thought they were on to me.”
Dan spoke up, “When I was in L.A. doing stuff I behaved a lot as if I were on the run. I was mostly hiding from other hackers and some narcs, but the behavior was about the same as if I were being chased by The Man. It took a lot of dedication to not leave clues as to who I really was, what my car license plate was, and where I lived. I had to be able to mislead and lie to my friends in the scene to make sure if they got caught they didn’t know anything about me that would get me in trouble.”
“Did anything happen?” Tom asked Dan.
Nodding his head Dan explained “Yeah, one time I went to a 2600 meeting and made sure to park far away and walk the rest of the way. At the end of the meeting I was real careful to make sure no one followed me back to the car, but as it turned out one hacker did. At the next meeting he told me my license plate, and called me by the first name of the person who owned the car. He had pulled the DMV records of my car because he wanted leverage over me.”
“Sounds like a dick,” Brian observed.
“Yeah, lucky for me the name he got was not my name.” Dan was happy about that, you could tell. “I later found out that he was an FBI informant who had been turned after getting caught breaking into telephone central offices.”
“What that experience told me was to trust no one, but it really made me evaluate my priorities. After being on the down low for so long it was hard to come out. I had to move here and basically start over. I had never had telephone service in my name, no credit cards or even a bank account because I lived on cash. I was 25 and couldn’t even get a $3,000 car loan. It’s taken me five years to build up my credit profile so I could buy a house.”
“How was the stress? What skills did you need?” Tom probed.
“Well, I’m sure they would be different if millions of dollars were at stake instead of just some random hacking and phone phreaking. But it was definitely good that I can remember names and faces forever as well as passwords and phone numbers. I can recall conversations almost exactly, and that helped out a great deal when sorting out the bullshit hackers from the real ones. Over time people usually mess up and let something slip. When they do I catch it, and it has saved me more than once. I never really had to have a ‘bust-me-book’ full of information, because it was all in my head,” Dan concluded.
“So a good memory is key. I’d say that the ability to lie convincingly is also key. You will be spinning so many webs of deceit that you will need to be convincing and keep them all straight. To practice your skills you could play poker, 5 card draw, where there will be a lot of bluffing. Or you could get a Voice Stress Analyzer and work with it until you can make all of your statements become ‘inconclusive’ or ‘truthful’. Along those lines would be to get a biorhythm toy that measures skin resistance. Use that to practice dealing with stress and sudden changes in your situation. You don’t want be surprised easily. The last idea is to learn how to tell when other people are lying and then use those skills to protect yourself.”
Brian told of an encounter he had with a private investigator at a bar. “It was real interesting. I started talking with the guy next to me who turned out to be a P.I. After a while he demonstrated how he was successful at telling lies as well as detecting them. ‘First you get a baseline response,’ he explained. ‘I work in a series of questions into the conversation that deal with both creativity and with memory recall, questions to which you would not lie. For example, I would ask you what you had for dinner. You would access memory and tell me it was steak or something. Then I would ask you what it tasted like. To answer that question you’d use your imagination and creativity to describe the flavors. People almost always move their eyes differently when accessing different parts of their brain. Looking down vs. looking up and to the right is common. Well, after enough baseline questions are asked I’ll have a profile on your body language and voice when telling the truth. Then I’d ask a direct question, the real question, and see how you respond. It’s a lot like parts of the Reid Method of interrogation.’”
“Since that conversation I have always thought about developing the skills to avoid any ‘tells’ that reveal what part of my mind I am accessing. You can condition yourself to this, and I’d say it would be mandatory for someone on the run. You don’t want to trip anyone’s bullshit detector.”
Dan was nodding his head. “I’d agree with that. You have to be able to lie convincingly.”
Brian was holding up his fingers again, trying to remember his original points from the beginning of the evening. “Let’s see... Memory for details, an ability to lie and maybe as well to detect lies.” Looking at this hand with one two fingers he remembered a third. “Ah, an ability to handle long term stress would go a long way to helping you stay in good health. That’s three.” Popping up all four fingers now he announced “An ability to learn languages would definitely help. Unless you have that bullet proof 100% fantastic identity you are going to need to change your accent at the least. That leaves me with my thumb.” Sticking his thumb in the air Brian came up with, “I’m going to guess that a bit of bi-polar disorder would help with your mental health.”
“Say what?” Tom exclaimed. He understood the previous points, but not this one.
“Well,” Brian continued “you want to be comfortable in two separate settings. On one hand, you want to be able to deal with loneliness, not being able to contact your life long friends or to call your mom. You have to be very comfortable being by yourself, unable to fully share who you are with anyone else.”
“On the other hand, you want to be outgoing and friendly. You will need to be able to fit in wherever you go. You’ll need a group of friends to help you settle, people who can act as references on an application or help you open a bank account or buy a car. I assume you want to blow some of your money on beautiful women, and last time I checked they tend to like friendly, exciting people. You don’t tend to meet them camped out at home or on the net. So, if you can deal with being both an introvert and an extrovert you will do better long term. At least that’s what I am speculating.” Brian put his hand down, signaling the end of his contribution to the subject.
“I’ve got one, then.” Tom said. “I’d think that the better health you had the less you would have to see a doctor. The less likely you are to be seriously sick, the less risk of being detected or identified. It would suck to be in an accident and have the hospital have to fingerprint you and then ask the cops to ID you because you are unconscious with no ID.”
Dan looked a little bored after his story was told. “Well, I’m sure there are a million other skills that would be helpful like reading lips, forgery, or becoming left handed if you were originally right handed, etc.”
“Yeah, I get it.” Tom said. “It looks like we’re winding down. Dan has to get back to the wife unit soon. It is almost past your bed time!” He taunted Dan.
Dan rubbed his nose with the middle finger of his right hand. “So, are you going to do it?” Dan asked Tom point blank. “Do we get to read about you on Monday? See you on America’s Most Wanted by Friday?”
Tom was shaking his head and laughing. “No fucking way. Not after this conversation. I don’t think there are enough hours in the day for me to plan something between now and Friday, even if I wanted to. It becomes obvious that you need a team of a couple people and months of planning to even attempt something like this. Not to mention a budget for all the set up and living expenses should you fail. The only way I would even remotely consider a situation like this was if the target machine or network could be approached pseudo-anonymously over the internet or through some WiFi AP. Once your identity is known your life is pretty much over.”
“I think the only people really in a position to take advantage of criminal opportunities like these are the big organized crime groups, or groups that have control of banks like small countries or sketchy dictatorships. As an outsider to those groups you really lack the connections to make a successful long term get away when there are serious people looking for you.”
Shaking his head “No” and pushing back from the dinner table, Tom leaned forward and snatched the bill off the table. Glancing at the total, Tom said to the guys, “That was cheap, considering the education I got.”
Brian responded, “Yeah, next time you are in a situation like, give us a couple months notice to come up with a plan we can fantasize about.” He stood and shook Tom’s hand. “It was good to see you! I’ll be up all night thinking of the possibilities.”
[Note to Editor: You can keep or delete to the end from here if you think it works better]
“Me too,” Dan said standing as well. “That really brought the bad memories back. I wonder if I’ll mention this conversation to my wife.” Brian gave him a strange look. “Are you nuts!?” he said. “She would kick you in the jimmy for even thinking about it.”
Dan had to agree. “Yeah, she’s really doesn’t understand my whole past brushes with the underground scene and is too risk adverse to even think about it. That’s why I like her. She keeps me out of trouble.” Nodding in Tom’s direction, “See, that’s what you need to keep you out of trouble. You need a wife to consume all of your spare brain cycles.”
“That will be the day!” Tom was leading the group to the door of the restaurant, and further away from the idea that four billion was enough.
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